Call it the year of living dangerously. And what a year was! As event professionals, we speak a common language when it comes to in-person trade shows. Exhibitors and show organizers have had decades of experience in how to run a trade show, attract visitors into the booth, engage attendees, gather leads, and maximize ROI. However, research has shown that while virtual events have generally provided marketing value, exhibitors have indicated that live events provide a more robust experience for not only the attendees, but also the brands. Show organizers have been under considerable pressure to help educate virtual exhibitors, most of whom have had little or no experience in the virtual world, about the platforms and various tools available to maximize their time and investment. Over time, show organizers have become more effective in communicating expectations to exhibitors. As a friendly reminder, here are 10 ways organizers can alleviate some of the stress that overwhelms many exhibitors when planning a virtual trade show.
1. Know Your Virtual Show!
There is nothing more frustrating than having unclear instructions, discord on the part of the production team, or having ever-changing parameters. Make sure you know exactly what you will be expecting of your exhibitors and clearly relay that information to them, just as you do for your live event.
2. Be Accessible to Exhibitors
Setting up a virtual environment is not always intuitive, and there are many platforms out there. Exhibitors may have questions regarding technology that may be entirely new to them. Assign a project/account manager to exhibitor groups to quickly respond to questions and concerns.
3. Offer Webinars for Different Sponsorship Levels
There are often different levels of virtual booth environments and not all function the same way. Schedule webinars for these different levels and offer them On Demand to refer to.
4. Provide Graphic Guidelines and Specs
Every virtual page allows for graphics. Let exhibitors know the parameters for each graphic so they are sized correctly. This also applies to sponsorships that include banner ads.
5. Offer Many Opportunities to Gather Metrics and Leads
This can include everyone that visited the page, downloaded a brochure, attended a demo, and viewed videos. Exhibitors need measurable results and leads to add to their database. Organizers must manage expectations and provide what is going to be measured upfront.
6. Offer Incentives to Opt-Ins
Explore incentives for encouraging attendees to opt-in. Ask all attendees when registering if they agree to receiving communications from the exhibitors.
7. Allow Link-Outs
While show organizers want to keep attendees in their virtual environment, it’s important to allow banner ads and text boxes to have link-outs to exhibitor pages or microsites, that open in a new browser page. It’s another quick way to track metrics with custom tagged URLs and provide additional brand content that can’t fit into the platform.
8. Provide Clear and REALISTIC Deadlines, Then Stick to Them
The process is confusing enough without having to wonder about when things may or may not be due. A key element of this is making sure the instructions are crystal clear to avoid any confusion as to what the due dates refer to. Some programs have so many overlapping elements that there is no way to understand which due date corresponds to which element. Along the same lines, virtual exhibitors may be given unrealistic timelines. It can take a long time to gather assets to thoroughly produce exceptional, attention-grabbing media. Having everything due in three weeks, for example, often isn’t possible.
9. Offer Incentives to Help Drive Attendees to the Virtual Exhibits
One concern we hear time and again from our virtual trade show clients, and that we’ve experienced ourselves, is that attendees are not visiting the exhibits. If there isn’t any brand engagement there is little opportunity for conversion. Organizers should continue to find creative incentives to entice the audience to the exhibit pages. Gamification, such as a treasure hunt or passport to encourage the attendees to visit as many online exhibits as possible, is one idea.
10. Ask for Feedback
Your exhibitors likely have plenty of ideas about improving the virtual trade show environment, based on their new-found experience. Most show organizers are smartly sending post-show surveys. If all parties listen and learn from each other, organizers can reassure exhibitors that they aren’t creating more obstacles than opportunities.
Virtual trade shows will never entirely replicate the in-person experience. That the trade show industry managed to grow, reimagine, and reinvent in a virtual world during a pandemic has been a true accomplishment. Some of the issues organizers and exhibitors still face, especially how to engage virtual audiences and convert leads to sales, have no simple solutions. The largest challenge for virtual trade show organizers is to find ways to drive more traffic to booths. Exhibitors need the organizer’s help to understand how to make the most of the selected platform to achieve goals in important areas like engagement, lead acquisition, branding opportunities and proving ROI. All indications are, that even when in-person events resume, exhibitors have expressed interest in keeping a virtual component. So, let’s not live dangerously when it comes to virtual trade shows. Organizers (and platforms) should continue to improve and innovate so that exhibitors will feel secure in this environment.
TPG contributing authors: Mary Kemmer, Operations Manager, CTSM; Jean Howard, Director of Business Development; Diane Ament, Program Manager; Kim Mallery, Project Manager
Related: 6 Ways to Promote Your Virtual Event
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